How to Develop a Great Thesis Statement for Your College Essay

Coming up with a really good thesis statement is often one of the hardest parts of writing an essay, so we’re going to break it down for you and show you everything you need to know to get it right.

Your thesis statement is a roadmap to your essay. It’s the heart and soul of your paper, and if you don’t choose strong arguments you’ll have a really hard time with the rest of the writing and research. Not
only that, but most of the time if you take a look at the rubric your professor gives you for your essay, you’ll find that the thesis statement alone is worth a big chunk of your mark.

Essentially, the thesis statement sets the tone of your paper and tells your reader exactly what you’re going to be talking about or arguing for the rest of the essay. It also showcases how your paper is going to be organized, which helps everything flow seamlessly. You’re going to be graded on how well your paper flows, and the thesis statement is the glue that holds everything together.

Every thesis statement should have two main elements: an argument or position and an answer to a research question. Generally, the argument itself will be the answer to that research question. From there, you need to break it down and determine exactly which arguments you’re going to be making and what claims are going to back up your answer.

Avoiding General Statements

Anyone can make a general statement about something, and this should not be what comprises your thesis statement. It’s very easy to say that climate change is bad. In fact, most people would likely also believe this already. A real argument provides an analysis with credible facts explaining why climate change is bad, if or how it can be slowed down/reversed, or the factors that cause climate change.

Even if you’re tasked with writing a research paper where you’ll generally be providing objective information about that subject, you still need to form a statement that creates some type of point or argument. For example, if you need to write a biographical research essay about Abraham Lincoln, you could focus your thesis statement on why his election to President of the United States was a turning point in modern American history. Then, pinpoint the reasons he contributed to the growth of the country or the major challenges he overcame.

Even if you don’t need to take a debatable stance on your subject, your thesis statement should provide an idea of what your essay will tell the reader. For example, if you are writing an essay describing how something works, you could briefly summarize the information you’re going to present.

For longer essays, you’ll need a thesis statement that is versatile enough to apply to every supporting argument and point you’re going to make. That being said, if you are going to fill twenty pages with arguments, you’re not going to have the room in one or two sentences to explain all of those ideas. If you can, you probably have one big run-on sentence that will lose you some major grammar points.

Instead, think of an overarching point that connects multiple arguments together, and then make sure those body paragraphs are arranged in order within your paper.

How to Break Down a Topic to Make a Thesis Statement

To make your thesis statement, you’ll need to make sure your topic is broken down enough so you know what you are going to be focusing on. It should have enough information to tell your reader what information you’re going to discuss in the paper and why they should care.

A thesis statement needs to be something that is debatable. Think about your topic and your particular position, opinion, or stance about it. What would someone who disagrees with you say to disprove your
position, or what alternative viewpoints would someone present that might contrast with your ideas? If you can’t think of an answer to these questions, your topic is too broad.

When you’re trying to narrow down your thesis statement, try to think about the five Ws: who, what, where, when, and why. If you can answer these questions about your specific topic, this will help you
narrow down your argument. Try to answer as many of them in your thesis statement as possible without forcing it.

This is why it’s important to try to choose a topic you’re passionate about if you can. The more you care about something, the easier it is for you to explain exactly why someone else should care, too.

Questions to Ask Yourself That Will Help Formulate a Thesis

  • Ask yourself some of the following questions if you’re stuck trying to figure out what to write for your thesis statement:
  • What do I want the reader to know?
  • What question am I answering?
  • If my topic is a widely known subject, what information am I presenting that someone may not already know? Alternatively, what new information can I present?
  • Is there a controversial opinion out there about this topic? If so, why does that person think the way they do, and what evidence are they using?
  • What arguments could someone make to refute my position on my topic?

A Few Things to Remember

Here are some final tips and pieces of advice to follow when you’re getting ready to create and finalize your thesis statement:

  • The order you list your arguments in your thesis statement should be the order they appear within your essay. You can order them in chronological order, from least to most significant, or however else it makes sense for your topic.
  • Try to be as specific as possible, and avoid using vague words that could be misconstrued.
  • Avoid using sentence starters such as “My paper will argue that…” or “In my paper, I will argue that…”
  • Avoid using jargon or technical terms that are very niche-specific. Unless you’re writing a very specific type of paper for a very knowledgeable audience, assume that your reader doesn’t know all of those terms and try to explain it for a broader audience.
  • Always be ready to answer “so what?” about your topic.

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Types of Structured Outlines For 3 Kinds of College Essays

A basic essay will follow the 5-point “hamburger” outline, but some types of essays will require their own formatting. This happens because specific types of essays often require that you include sections for additional types of content.

We’re going to go over some specific types of essay outlines with you to give you a better idea of what you’ll need. Expository essays, research papers, and analytical essays will generally follow the basic outline format, while argumentative essays, compare/contrast essays, and cause/effect essays will need some tweaking.

Argumentative Essay Outline

In an argumentative essay, you need to include a section for opposing viewpoints and counterarguments. This isn’t always required, but it is an important way to strengthen your argument and show that you’ve acknowledged or considered other viewpoints before taking your own position.

The number of paragraphs you’ll need depends on the number of arguments and counterarguments you’re presenting. If you are writing a shorter paper, you can put one or two counterarguments in the same paragraph, but for longer papers, you can include more of them in their own paragraphs. Here is a typical structure for a basic essay:

  1. Introduction Paragraph
    • A catchy hook for your opening line
    • Background information or context to introduce your topic
    • The thesis statement
  2. Body Paragraph 1: Argument 1
    • Topic sentence
    • Evidence
    • Transition to next point
  3. Body Paragraph 2: Argument 2
    • Topic sentence
    • Evidence
    • Transition to next point
  4. Body Paragraph 3: Argument 3
    • Topic sentence
    • Evidence
    • Transition to next point
  5. Body Paragraph 4: Counter Arguments
    • Topic sentence
    • Counter argument 1
    • Rebuttal to counter argument 1
    • Counter argument 2
    • Rebuttal to counter argument 2
    • Transition to conclusion
  6. Conclusion Paragraph
    • Restate thesis statement
    • Summarize arguments and counter arguments
    • Ending line

This particular structure is the most common way to organize your argumentative essay, but if you’d like, you can use a different method. You may choose to alternate arguments and counterargument paragraphs if there are many, or you could include a counter-argument in each body paragraph that relates to your own argument.

Using the latter structure, in your body paragraphs you would then present your argument, point out the evidence, state a counter argument someone might have to your point, and then refute that argument further.

Compare and Contrast Essay Outline

When writing a compare and contrast essay, you could choose from a few different options to structure your paper. You could choose to present all of the similarities together at once, and then list the differences, you could go point by point, or you could go subject by subject.

No matter which method you choose, you always need to make sure you tie the subjects together and focus on the examination of your chosen theme or topic. If necessary, add an additional body paragraph with a brief plot summary of both subjects before you get into your points if you don’t already do this in your introduction
paragraph. Here is a typical structure if you decide to do the similarities first, and then differences:

  1. Introduction Paragraph
  2. Body Paragraph 1: Comparisons
    a. Topic sentence
    b. Argument from subject 1
    c. Similar argument from subject 2
    d. Continue this pattern for additional similar arguments between subjects
    e. Transition sentence to next paragraph
  3. Body Paragraph 2: Contrasts
    a. Topic sentence
    b. Argument from subject 1
    c. Contrasting argument from subject 2
    d. Continue this pattern for all additional different arguments between subjects
    e. Transition sentence to next paragraph
  4. Body Paragraph 3: Further Analysis
    a. Topic sentence
    b. Analysis of comparisons
    c. Analysis of contrasts
    d. Transition sentence to conclusion
  5. Conclusion Paragraph
    a. Restate thesis statement
    b. Summarize arguments
    c. End on a high note

Here is an example of a compare and contrast essay that goes point by point:

  1. Introduction Paragraph
    a. Catchy opening hook
    b. Background information or introduction of topic
    c. Thesis statement
  2. Body Paragraph 1: Point or Argument 1
    a. Topic sentence
    b. Position of subject 1
    c. Position of subject 2
    d. Analysis
    e. Transition sentence to next paragraph
  3. Body Paragraph 2: Point or Argument 2
    a. Topic sentence
    b. Position of subject 1
    c. Position of subject 2
    d. Analysis
    e. Transition sentence to next paragraph
  4. Body Paragraph 3: Point or Argument 3
    a. Topic sentence
    b. Position of subject 1
    c. Position of subject 2
    d. Analysis
    e. Transition sentence to next paragraph
  5. Conclusion Paragraph
    a. Restate thesis statement
    b. Summarize arguments
    c. End with a resonating line

Lastly, here is an example of the subject by subject structure:

  1. Introduction Paragraph
    a. Catchy opening hook
    b. Background information or introduction of topic
    c. Thesis statement
  2. Body Paragraph 1: Subject 1
    a. Topic sentence
    b. Arguments and points in subject 1
    c. Transition sentence to next paragraph
  3. Body Paragraph 2: Subject 2
    a. Topic sentence
    b. Arguments and points in subject 2
    c. Transition sentence to next paragraph
  4. Body Paragraph 3: Analysis
    a. Topic sentence
    b. Connect arguments from subject 1 to arguments from subject 2
    c. Transition sentence to conclusion
  5. Conclusion Paragraph
    a. Restate thesis statement
    b. Summarize arguments and subjects
    c. End with a nice, relevant line

Cause and Effect Essay Outline

Cause and effect essays have a variety of potential structures based on the direction you choose to take. As we said, you could focus on how one cause has multiple effects (Focus-on-Effects), how multiple causes lead to one effect (Focus-on-Causes), or put the emphasis equally on both. If you use the Focus-on-Effects method, your essay outline should look something like this:

  1. Introduction Paragraph
    a. Catchy opening hook
    b. Background information or introduction of the topic
    c. Thesis statement
  2. Body Paragraph 1: Information on the Cause (Optional)
  3. Body Paragraph 2: Effect 1
    a. Topic sentence
    b. Points and evidence
    c. Transition sentence to next paragraph
  4. Body Paragraph 3: Effect 2
    a. Topic sentence
    b. Points and evidence
    c. Transition sentence to next paragraph
  5. Body Paragraph 4: Effect 3
    a. Topic sentence
    b. Points and evidence
    c. Transition sentence to next paragraph
  6. Conclusion Paragraph
    a. Restate thesis statement
    b. Summarize arguments and subjects
    c. End with a nice, relevant line

If you use the Focus-on-Causes method, your essay outline will resemble this structure:

  1. Introduction Paragraph
    a. Catchy opening hook
    b. Background information or introduction of topic
    c. Thesis statement
  2. Body Paragraph 1: Information on the Effect (Optional)
  3. Body Paragraph 2: Cause 1
    a. Topic sentence
    b. Points and evidence
    c. Transition sentence to next paragraph
  4. Body Paragraph 3: Cause 2
    a. Topic sentence
    b. Points and evidence
    c. Transition sentence to next paragraph
  5. Body Paragraph 4: Cause 3
    a. Topic sentence
    b. Points and evidence
    c. Transition sentence to next paragraph
  6. Conclusion Paragraph
    a. Restate thesis statement
    b. Summarize arguments and subjects
    c. End with a nice, relevant line

Lastly, if you choose to focus on both causes and effects as a chain of reactions, your essay structure may take the following form:

  1. Introduction Paragraph
    a. Catchy opening hook
    b. Background information or introduction of topic
    c. Thesis statement
  2. Body Paragraph 1: Cause and Effect 1
    a. Topic sentence
    b. Points and evidence about the cause
    c. Points and evidence about the effect
    d. Transition sentence to next paragraph
  3. Body Paragraph 2: Cause and Effect 2
    a. Topic sentence
    b. Points and evidence about the cause
    c. Points and evidence about the effect
    d. Transition sentence to next paragraph
  4. Body Paragraph 3: Cause and Effect 3
    a. Topic sentence
    b. Points and evidence about the cause
    c. Points and evidence about the effect
    d. Transition sentence to next paragraph
  5. Conclusion Paragraph
    a. Restate thesis statement
    b. Summarize arguments and subjects
    c. End with a nice, relevant line

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How to Start an Essay with a Structured Outline

Every essay, no matter what kind you’re writing, should start with a good outline. Sometimes a professor might ask you to turn in an outline as an extra part of your assignment, and other times they
might just want to see your final paper. Even when this isn’t required, you should always be in the habit of making one anyway.

Most students tend to skip this process, especially the ones who tend to start their essays the day before they’re due and want to finish the paper as fast as they possibly can. If this sounds like something you usually do, and you’re wondering why your essays always get average grades, this could be why.

We can tell you from our own experience that once you get in the habit of writing your papers with structured outlines, you’ll never want to avoid using one again.

Why an Outline is Important

An essay outline is a big help when it comes time to sit down and actually write your paper. Your outline tells you exactly what you need to write about, how you’re going to structure your paper, and what
information you’ll need to find.

When you’ve narrowed down your topic and determined what your thesis statement is going to be (more about thesis statements in the next chapter), you’ll be able to start building your arguments. In the outline, you can lay out the points you’re going to make so you have an idea about how you’re going to back it all up. Then, you can place everything in order and figure out exactly where your content will

Academic sources, such as scholarly journal articles, tend to be very specific. That can make things difficult when you’re doing the research and pulling evidence for your essay. With an outline, you can narrow down your search when you’re looking in databases or libraries so you get more accurate or relevant results faster. This is key to keeping you on track while you’re writing, especially if you tend to find yourself getting sidetracked or lost in all of the information out there.

An outline also helps you see everything in one place without scrolling through all of your paragraphs. This gives you a good idea of how well your essay flows together and whether it transitions nicely, which in turn makes it easy to put it all together. Once the essay outline is done, all you have to do is fill in the gaps.

How to Structure an Outline

The structure of your essay will largely depend on what type of essay you’re writing.

But the majority of essays will follow the same 5-point format: introduction, body paragraph for each argument, and conclusion. Sometimes we call this the hamburger format, because on a burger, your toppings, meat, and cheese are in the middle (your body paragraphs that contain the bulk of your argument), held together in place by the top and bottom buns (your introduction and conclusion).

You’ve probably heard that term in elementary school and high school. A university or college essay takes the same basis, but it’s a little more complex than that because, of course, you’re older and smarter now. So, when you put it all together, a basic essay outline will look like this:

  1. Introduction Paragraph
    • A catchy first sentence with a hook that captures your reader’s attention
    • Background information and/or an introduction into your topic
    • Your thesis statement
  2. Body Paragraph 1: First Argument or Point
    • topic sentence that introduces the point you’re going to make
    • Evidence to support your point
    • A transition sentence that leads into your next paragraph/argument
  3. Body Paragraph 2: Second Argument or Point
    • A topic sentence that introduces the point you’re going to make
    • Evidence to support your point
    • A transition sentence that leads into your next paragraph/argument
  4. Body Paragraph 3: Third Argument or Point
    • A topic sentence that introduces the point you’re going to make
    • Evidence to support your point
    • A transition sentence that leads into your conclusion
  5. Conclusion Paragraph
    • Your thesis statement, reworded from your introduction
    • A summary of the arguments or points that you presented, further questions or thoughts, and/or a connection to a broader theme
    • A final line that will resonate with the reader

Naturally, the longer your essay is, the more paragraphs you’ll need. If you’re writing a 10-page essay, you’re going to need more than five paragraphs. In that case, you can break up your arguments further
into separate paragraphs, but make sure each paragraph contains a theme or detail. For example, if you’re using different types of evidence to back up a point, you can showcase each piece of evidence in its own paragraph.

If you’re writing a long research paper or expository essay, you will benefit from including a paragraph of background information before you get into your body paragraphs. Include some general statistics,
summary of the time period, information about a theorist, or anything else that the reader might need to know. Likewise, for a literary analysis, you could include a paragraph with a plot summary to give your reader some background information.

However, when you take this approach, remember that your information needs to be relevant to your topic and thesis statement. Don’t just ramble on to fill up space. Professors notice this and will factor it into your mark.

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6 Types of Essays You’ll Get in College Part 1

We’re going to go over some of the different types of essays you may end up writing, either for this paper or for any of your classes throughout your academic career. It’s important to understand the different types of essays because you need to understand how to structure them and what type of information to look for.

You’ve got your topic ready to go, but you need to know where to go next. Sometimes the specific type of paper will be given to you by your professor, and other times you’ll have a bit more freedom to
choose the format that works for you. Regardless of how you get to this point, it’s important to make sure you’re going in the right direction from here. You can’t make a good outline if you’re not sure how to structure it.

There are 6 main types of papers that fall under the essay umbrella that we’re going to discuss here.

Argumentative Essays

An argumentative essay is exactly how it sounds. In this essay, you’re arguing a specific viewpoint on your topic, and trying to convince the reader that they should agree with you. This paper will need to touch on both sides of an argument with enough evidence to show why your side is the right side.

There are two main components to an argumentative essay: solid evidence for your perspective and a rebuttal to opposing viewpoints. Pretend you’re having a written debate with someone. You’ll have to present the argument in a way that doesn’t leave room for further questions or confusion. What do you need to do in order to prove them wrong? Show them the evidence and make sure that it’s credible, believable, and strong.

Even though you’re arguing your perspective on something, you still need to avoid using first-person pronouns. Instead of saying “I believe that…” your thesis statement should say “This paper will argue that…” or “This paper will provide conclusive evidence to prove that…” This is a much more formal and professional approach. Here are some very basic examples of argumentative essay topics:

  • Online courses in university are helpful and beneficial for post-secondary learning
  • Voting should be mandatory for all citizens of legal age
  • Animal testing should be completely banned from all industries
  • The legal drinking age should be lowered
  • Climate change is a growing problem caused by human activity
  • The music industry is not fair to recording artists and bands
  • Health care should be free for everyone
  • The laws need to be changed to include more policing for cyberbullying
  • Batman is not a real superhero
  • Abraham Lincoln was the best American president

Expository Essays

An expository essay is very similar to an argumentative essay, but your job here is to explain something to your reader in a clear and concise way.

Instead of arguing one perspective or side of an argument, you are adapting a more neutral and objective tone to present the facts and evidence. Assume that you’re writing for an audience that doesn’t really know that much about your topic and needs an explanation. Think of it as if you’re presenting the solution to a problem that the audience doesn’t really realize they have.

Here’s another way to think about expository essays: your friend has asked you a question about something and you need to provide them with a helpful answer that gives them everything they need to know.

Be sure to be descriptive in your expository essay and make sure you present enough information so the audience can form their own opinion. Expository essays take a lot of research, and you need to make sure that all of your information is coming from credible academic, primary, or scholarly sources. Here are some examples of very basic expository essay topics:

  • What qualities make a real leader?
  • What are the negative effects of gender-based stereotypes in the media?
  • Why is peer pressure a bad thing in high school?
  • How do people with anxiety learn to cope in society?
  • Why is it important for politicians to be transparent in their platforms and campaigns?
  • How does a democracy work?
  • What steps can civilians take to reduce their individual carbon footprint?

Compare and Contrast Essays

In simple terms, a compare and contrast essay points out the similarities and differences between two topics. You could compare and contrast two different people, books, journal articles, historical perspectives, or even types of governments. The options are seemingly endless. For example, you could compare and contrast how two of Shakespeare’s tragic heroes embody a specific theme, such as Macbeth and Hamlet and their descent into madness.

Sometimes you’ll have to use more than two topics, but it’s most common to focus on two things. The more topics you have to compare and contrast, the less detail you can include about each specific one. If you have to eliminate details, this could weaken your argument. If you’re choosing how many topics to include, be conscious about your word count or page count and the requirements in the provided rubric.

When brainstorming for a compare and contrast essay, it’s helpful to make a Venn diagram when you get started. This will give you a clear idea of where your topics overlap so you can find the similarities
right away, and then expand your research further. Here are some examples of compare and contrast essay topics you could test out if you’re stuck coming up with something:

  • The film and book versions of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
  • Leadership styles of different presidents
  • Comparing themes in two different Shakespeare plays
  • Literary devices used in Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories
  • How women are presented in historical fiction and modern fiction
  • Marvel characters versus DC characters
  • The death penalty versus restorative justice
  • Democracy versus socialism
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How to Get Started Writing an Essay and Choosing a Topic

Essays are going to be assigned to you during your time at school, whether you like it or not. You likely wrote one to get into your university or college, and you’ve probably already written a ton of them in high school. However, university and college level essays are a step up from your high school papers.

Not only are they longer, but they’re often more complex and your professors are expecting a lot more from you than your high school teachers ever did. That can be a really scary thing. Especially given the fact that most university professors don’t provide you with an outline or clear instructions on how to write essays.

In this essay writing guide, we’ll give you the tools you need to turn in a paper that will not only impress your professors, but yourself as well.

Even if you don’t consider yourself a writer, learning the right elements of an essay and how to properly write one can help you get better grades.

We’re going to walk you through every step you need to take while you write your paper, from coming up with a great idea to knowing what to look for in the editing process. By the time you finish this, you’re going to feel so prepared and ready to take on any challenges.

Before You Get Started

There are a few things you need to remember before you start writing your essay. It’s important to take the time to treat every single paper like it’s worth 100% of your grade.

Firstly, don’t start everything the night before your paper is due. You hear this all the time, but it’s absolutely true. Leaving everything until the last minute leads to rushing and leaving out critical information. You may run into situations such as skimming through sources to get random snippets of information instead of the most vital components, that could turn your argument around. Additionally, your professors can tell which students have done this, and while you may not end up with a failing grade, you likely won’t end up with the grade you truly could have received if you put the time and effort into it.

Secondly, stay disciplined and on track. Charles Dickens once said, “Procrastination is the thief of time.” When it comes to writing your essay, time is definitely of the essence.

Give yourself the right amount of time to complete your essay, and get yourself in the zone. Good writing takes focus and practice. You know about your essays and assignments for the semester as soon as you get your syllabus during the first week of classes. While it may not have the detailed instructions, this will at least let you know when your paper is due, and gives you time to prepare for it step by step.

Start thinking about topics, arguments, and sources as soon as possible and carve out a little bit of time each day to work on it. The more you go back and revisit your writing, the more you can see areas for improvement.

Lastly, don’t be too hard on yourself. If you don’t get the grade you thought you deserved, talk to your professor. Read the comments that they leave when they mark your papers, and learn from your mistakes. Find out where you can improve for your next paper. Life is all about learning and growing, and the best way to do this is to try. As George R.R. Martin wrote in his award-winning book A Game of Thrones, “A bruise is a lesson… and each lesson makes us better.”

Choosing Your Topic

When it comes to writing an essay, no matter what type of essay you’re writing, you need to start with a good topic. Sometimes this will be given to you by your professor in the essay instructions, and other times you’ll have to come up with something on your own.

If you are fortunate enough to come up with your own topic, it should be something you’re passionate about, or at least a topic that interests you. Do you really want to spend the next few weeks reading articles about a topic you could care less about? No, of course not. So, pick something you want to learn more about and you’ll actually be interested in the research component.

When you’re stuck choosing a topic, go back through your readings and class notes and look for a topic that interests you that was covered during a lecture or in your textbook. If you’re still in doubt, don’t be afraid to reach out and ask your professor or TA for advice or suggestions. Your professor has likely taught this class many times before, and has seen a variety of topics and ideas come through in students’ essays. They’re more likely to be enthusiastic about fresh new ideas instead of the same topics over and over again from past years, and will be able to give you some good places to start.

The right essay topic can’t be too broad. For example, if you’re asked to write a paper about a social issue, you can’t just pick climate change or gun control and write a paper about that. It’s impossible to make a strong thesis statement for a topic that’s overly general and broad, and therefore it’s hard to formulate a good argument. Here’s another example: you can’t possibly narrow down a paper on World War II to eight pages, but you can if you focus on a topic such as how aerial warfare changed the way that the war was fought.

You need to get down to the basis of the topic and formulate a research question from there. If your topic is too broad, you’ll have a hard time writing and arguing about it. Instead, with a broad topic, your paper will just be filled with generic information that doesn’t actually make a point about anything except for giving your reader regurgitated information from various sources.

How to Narrow Down a Broad Topic

Figuring out how to narrow down your broad topic can be difficult. However, this is an important step to take when you’re getting your paper ready for writing. You can’t possibly do all of your research effectively until you know the specific topic you’re working with.

Do a little bit of initial research about your topic. It doesn’t have to be the same collection of research or sources you’re going to use in the paper itself, but you should get an idea of what experts, scholars, and researchers have written about your topic. Even if you just do a bit of searching on Google or Google Scholar, you’ll start to get an idea of the different arguments that are out there to give you an idea of what direction you want to go with your paper.

It doesn’t hurt to check out some blogs, too. Of course, you’re not going to be using someone’s blog as a scholarly source in your paper, but it’s a good idea to check out the opinions other people have formed about the topic. What arguments are those people making that you could research further?

Here are some questions you should ask yourself when you’re trying to break down a topic to come up with a narrow thesis statement:

  • Why should your audience care about this topic? Why do YOU care about this topic? If you don’t care about your topic, why should anyone else care about it? You need to be able to prove there’s value in talking about this subject. If you don’t see that value, you may want to consider finding a new topic altogether.
  • What is your opinion on this topic, and how would you argue this in a conversation with a friend? If you can formulate an opinion about the topic, it’ll be easier to find research that lines up with your arguments.
  • What comes to mind when you think about your topic? Even the smallest keywords could help you make meaningful connections or help you start to think about why you would want to talk about this in the first place.
  • What smaller questions could you ask about this topic? These could form potential research questions that translate to supporting arguments.
  • What are others saying about this topic? As stated above, you can do some initial Google research to see if there are articles published on this topic and figure out what conclusions others have made. Don’t copy word for word what those people have said, but see if you can find some good viewpoints that could be a good starting point.
  • What specific words can I add that would make this more focused? For example, if you can add words such as “the evolution of” or “the effects of,” you can break down your topic more effectively.
  • What kind of questions should my audience have? You want to get your audience thinking and leave them with something to take away.


There are plenty of ways you can start brainstorming about your topic in order to get an idea of what type of arguments you want to include in your essay. Start with your central topic, even if it’s really broad. Then branch out and see how many topics and words you can come up with on your own before you do any research. After that, do a quick Google search (even Wikipedia will do at this stage), and see what other terms and ideas you can find.

Once everything is out on paper in your mind map, it’ll be easier to start making connections between the ideas that came to your mind and the research you’ve found. Think about those connections, why those specific keywords came to your mind, and what questions you could ask about them that could formulate some type of argument.

Let’s say you’re writing a paper about music history. Start by breaking down the genres of music and everything that comes to mind about each of those genres, even if they’re just abstract thoughts or basic keywords connected to the theme. Then, figure out how you can work those keywords into something that forms an argument or research topic.

From here, you can take a look at how you formed the beginning of a narrowed-down topic and potential argument. For example, you could choose jazz music in the 1920s and focus on how Louis Armstrong changed the music style to impact future generations. Or, you could choose to focus on how jazz music was connected with race or cultural divisions. For any of these genres, you could think about how early versions have transcended into influencing modern generations, such as how The Beatles transformed rock music and influenced other important bands.

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Persuasive Prompts in Essay Writing

Argumentation (persuasion) and exposition are the most common modes of writing asked for in timed writing tests. In this essay, we’ll
explore the conventions of persuasion. Here is a sample persuasive prompt:

Recent funding cuts have been made to the school district. To cope with the problem, your school board has plans to eliminate all sports and music programs. Some members of the community have questioned the board’s controversial proposal. Write a letter to the editor arguing your point of view on the proposal. Be sure to support your position with reasons, examples, facts, and/or other evidence. Readers should feel convinced to take your position seriously.

Close examination of the language of this prompt reveals several key terms. Words like controversial, support, and convinced all suggest the need to make an argument, to persuade readers. You are left with the choice of whether to support or oppose the proposal, but regardless of your choice, you will need to provide support for your claims, as the directive to provide “reasons, examples, facts, and/or other evidence” suggests.

After you have worked through the PAQs, brainstormed some possible approaches to a prompt, and written a draft, you’ll have a new strategy for taking ownership of prompts by transforming them into topics you can write about. One of the challenges of writing in response to any prompt is figuring out how to transform it into something you can write about, or how to “own” it.

Taking ownership of an assignment, whether one given in class or included in a writing test, is an essential skill for writers. In the process of making an assignment your own, you also choose a focus for the essay, identify an audience, and take a step toward establishing tone. Exercises like the ones we’ve given you should help demystify prompts and help you see them as opportunities to take ownership of your writing.

A Longer Persuasive Prompt

We’ve dealt with a persuasive prompt that gave you little information; now let’s look at one that includes much more information. The challenge here is to use the instructions in a productive way, without getting bogged down in reading the prompt.

Change is generally considered either an improvement or a change for the worse. Most people resist changes because they feel the old ways are working, so changes are not necessary.

Write a persuasive paper presenting one change you feel is needed. Discuss a change that relates to your school, your community, the state, or the world. Include examples and evidence to support why the change is needed. You should:

  1. Take a few minutes to plan your paper by making notes.
  2. Choose one change you think is needed.
  3. Give specific reasons that explain why this change is needed.
  4. Organize your ideas carefully.
  5. Check that you have correct sentences, punctuation, and spelling.

Before turning to the PAQs, let’s look at what’s different about this prompt and what we can learn from it. This prompt suggests the importance of prewriting in test situations, and we agree that taking time for planning your essay, even under tight time constraints, is important.

Directions two through five can be read in two ways: as an outline of the approach you should take in responding to this prompt and as an outline for a reader’s assessment of your response. That is, the grader is probably looking for one change, specific reasons for the change, and clear and careful organization. Number five, with its explicit reference to sentences, punctuation, and spelling, suggests the need to pay close attention to the conventions of written English. It also suggests the importance of sentence structure.

Now, here is how we might answer the PAQs for the above prompt:

  1. What is the central claim/topic called for?
    One is a key word in the prompt. I should make a claim for only one change and not introduce several. Because I can write about my school, community, state, or world, I have many choices for a topic, and it may be difficult to figure out where to focus.
  2. Who is the intended audience?
    Although no audience is specified, I think it makes sense to address an audience related to the area where I focus my topic—the principal of the school, the mayor of the community, the governor of the state, and so on.
  3. What is the purpose/mode for this writing task?
    Because my purpose is to argue for one change, I’ll be making an argument, but I would probably use narrative or description to lay out the situation I want to change.
  4. What strategies will be most effective?
    Comparison and contrast might be useful if I try to explain the difference my change will make. Of course, I’ll need examples, and definition may also be necessary.
  5. What is my role in achieving the purpose?
    Because I’ll be proposing a change and people don’t always like change, I’ll need to take on the role of expert, and a persuasive one at that.
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Analyzing Prompts in Essay Writing

If timed essays are like track races, then prompts are like event names—the 100-yard dash, the 440 relay, the long jump. Unlike the track star who approaches the starting line with a strategy in mind for the race in which he or she is competing, when you sit down at the start of a timed writing test, you don’t even know the prompt. You have to show up at the “starting line” prepared to perform a variety of writing tasks— the expository essay, the persuasive essay, the compare and contrast, and so on.

To help you prepare, let us give you a quick definition of a prompt before we go any further. A prompt is “something said or suggested to incite to action, or to help the memory.” In this essay, we’ll give you the strategies to contend confidently with the challenges presented by prompts.

Our back story starts in 1866 when Alexander Bain, a Scottish rhetorician, wrote English Composition and Rhetoric, which described what we know today as the four modes—exposition, description, narration, and argument (a handy acronym for remembering them is EDNA). You may have been asked to write one or more of these types of essays in your English class.

  • Exposition: written to inform the audience
  • Description: written to describe something
  • Narration: written to tell a story
  • Argumentation: written to persuade the audience to the position promoted

Why is it useful to know these terms? Well, many writing-on-demand prompts refer to the modes, and you will be more comfortable responding to those prompts if you know what conventions the mode calls for. To help you analyze or take apart prompts, we’ll use our secret weapon: the Prompt Analysis Questions—or, as we like to call them, the PAQs.

Five PAQs

The PAQs help you become a close reader of prompts, which will help you avoid the rookie mistake that Sid mentions at the beginning of this chapter. Of course, prompts vary radically in the types and amount of information they provide about the kind of writing expected, so it may not be possible to answer every question for each prompt or assignment. However, learning to ask and answer a series
of questions about the claim/topic, audience, purpose/mode, strategies, and role helps you figure out what is required and generate ideas for meeting that requirement.

With that in mind, we offer the PAQs below to help you unlock the secrets of any prompt. Each of the five questions can be amplified by additional questions. These questions recur throughout this chapter and the rest of the book because we have found them particularly useful for understanding prompts and assignments.

  1. What is the central claim/topic called for? Do I have choices to make with regard to this claim/topic? Will I need to focus the claim/topic in order to write a good essay? What arguments can I make for this claim? What do I know about this topic?
  2. Who is the intended audience? If named specifically, what do I know about this particular audience? If the audience is implied or not identified, what can I infer about it or them? In either event, how might the expectations of this audience affect my choices as a writer?
  3. What is the purpose/mode for the writing task? Is the purpose stated or must it be inferred? What is this writing supposed to accomplish (besides fulfilling the demands of the prompt/assignment)? What does the goal of this writing suggest about the mode (narration, exposition, description, argument) or combination of modes that I should consider in responding?
  4. What strategies will be most effective? What does the purpose/mode suggest about possible strategies? Of the strategies I am comfortable using—like examples, definitions, analysis, classification, cause/effect, compare/contrast—which will be most effective here? Are there any strategies—such as number of examples or type of support—that are specified as required?
  5. What is my role as a writer in achieving the purpose? Have I been assigned a specific role like applicant or representative? If I have not been assigned a specific role, what does the prompt or assignment tell me about the level of expertise I should demonstrate, the stance I should assume, or the approach I should take?

You might have some questions about some of the terms in our questions. If so, you may find these definitions useful:

  • Claim: Often confused with topic, claim is what an argument rests on. Some prompts specify a particular topic on which the claim needs to be based. Here is an example of the difference between topic and claim:
    • Topic: The role of experience in learning.
    • Claim: One can learn in many ways, but the most effective is through direct experience.
  • Purpose and Mode. The purpose designated by the prompt—to explain, to describe, to argue, and so on—will usually dictate the mode of writing to be used. The modes frequently blur into one another because it’s very difficult to write an explanation without some description or argue without explanation.
  • Rhetorical strategies: Techniques for writing well and/or organizing your ideas so that the reader can understand your point. Some examples are compare/contrast, cause/effect, example, definition, and so on.
  • Stance: The different positions writers take in relation to their audience and topic.
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How to Write Essays That Define

The instruction in this essay helps students move beyond the scaffolds and apply the procedures they have learned to create their own extended definition of a concept.

Stage 1: Building Interest and Engagement

It is important to pique students’ interest when you ask them to write an extended definition essay on their own. Begin by helping students identify a concept they are interested in defining.

Start by introducing a situation currently in the news or evident in your school that suggests the need for an extended definition. For example, recently there was a controversy in a Chicago-area high school about whether a student could wear a T-shirt with an antigay message (“Be Happy, Not Gay”). The student in question argued that not allowing her to wear the shirt infringed on her right to free speech. School officials disagreed, arguing that students do not have the right to wear something to school that potentially would negatively affect the learning environment.

In order to discuss this situation, your students need an extended definition of the concept of freedom of speech, especially within a school setting. To help them develop one, ask questions such as:

  • What is freedom of speech?
  • What is and is not allowed in school?
  • What criteria should be used to determine what is and is not allowed?
  • School attendance is required. Students can turn off a television or radio program if they are offended by it, but they can’t stay home from school. What effect does this situation have on freedom of speech?

Ask the class to brainstorm other situations and concepts that might have potential as the topic of an essay to define. Add your own ideas, especially if students are struggling. Possibilities include:

  • friendship
  • maturity
  • leadership
  • loyalty (or misguided or misplaced loyalty)
  • integrity
  • patriotism
  • responsibility
  • terrorism
  • progress
  • cruelty to animals
  • success
  • sportsmanship
  • what equal opportunity means in a school setting

Work with each student until everyone has selected a complex
concept to define.

If the essay that defines is part of an instructional unit focusing on a particular concept such as coming-of-age, the American Dream, or integrity, create a “hook” to generate student interest in defining that concept. For instance, give students a list of some well-known people (or characters) and ask who they believe have or have not achieved the American Dream and why. Or provide a situation such as the following in relation to integrity:

A person running for the United States Senate says in a campaign ad that he received an award as Intelligence Officer of the Year. It is later discovered that it was his military unit, not he alone, that won an award for outstanding service. Does running this ad show a lack of integrity by the candidate for office? Why or why not?

Providing a hook helps students see the need for creating an extended definition of the unit concept.

Stage 2: Modeling Processes as Students Generate Ideas for Writing

As students are developing their essays, support them by modeling parts of the process in class.

Model the process by asking the class as a whole to brainstorm ideas for writing scenarios for a given concept (cruelty to animals is a good one to use). You might begin by piquing student interest in cruelty to animals with something in the news.

For example, in 2009, the President of the United States, Barack Obama, was criticized by some animal rights groups for swatting and killing a fly during a television interview. The critics said he should have simply brushed the fly away, not killed it. One group sent the President a Katcha Bug device, which traps bugs and allows their safe release. Ask students whether President Obama was guilty of cruelty to animals.

Now have students write their own set of scenarios related to the concept they have chosen. Give them a scenario planning sheet and remind them to include some scenarios that represent borderline, debatable cases. (You could have students who have chosen the same concept work together in small groups.)

Have students use the scenarios they have developed to create a set of defining criteria. To remind them of what the task involves, you might have students together generate a couple of clear and effectively worded criterion statements that define cruelty to animals.

For instance, “hunting and killing animals is cruelty when it is done in a way that causes unnecessary suffering to the animal or endangers the survival of a species.” Some students may feel that causing an animal pain by changing its appearance for aesthetic purposes, such as clipping a boxer’s ears, is cruelty; others may not. In this case, their criteria may differ.

Groups of students working on the same concept can share their ideas. Alternatively, after they have drafted their criteria individually they can, in small groups, read one another’s criteria, determine whether they are worded clearly and are understandable, and suggest possible revisions.

Stage 3: Organizing and Drafting

Once students have developed scenarios and criteria, they are ready to organize their ideas in preparation for writing a draft of an extended definition essay.

The sheet should have space for four criterion statements, but tell students they may have more or fewer criteria, depending on their concept and the way they have framed the criteria. They should probably have at least three criteria in order to produce an effective essay. (Students sometimes combine two or more criteria into a single statement. They may need your help or that of their peers to recognize that they’ve done this.) They can draw their examples and contrasting examples from the scenarios they have created in the previous activity or think of additional or different examples.

It can be amended as necessary to match the consensus your class reaches during its discussions. Or students can suggest revisions that will improve it. After they have examined and discussed this planning sheet, have them develop a planning sheet for their own topic.

Once students have completed a planning sheet, they are ready to begin drafting their compositions. You may want to collect the planning sheets and check whether students are on the right track. You can return the sheets with brief comments on strengths as well as suggestions for improvement. (Meet individually with students who are struggling to talk through their ideas and help them improve weak spots.)

At this point, it’s helpful for students to examine an essay that defines and discuss its strengths and weakness as they think about creating their own compositions. Ask students, in small groups, to read the essay and answer the questions. Then have each group share its work with the whole class, perhaps projecting some of the students’ answers and discussing them at length. Alternatively, or in addition, use writing that students have produced earlier in the unit.

When students have completed their drafts, have them, in groups of three, read one another’s work and suggest revisions based on these questions:

  1. Does the essay have an introduction that catches the reader’s interest and presents the concept that will be defined? How does it establish the need for or importance of a definition of the concept?
  2. Does the introduction present a set of criteria for defining the concept? What are the criteria presented?
  3. For each criterion, what example and contrasting example does the writer provide to clarify the criterion?
  4. Which criteria and/or examples are difficult to understand or confusing? Explain.
  5. What ways can you suggest to improve any of the criteria or examples and contrasting examples?
  6. Has the writer employed a warrant to explain how each example and contrasting example does or does not illustrate the criterion? If warrants are missing or unconvincing, how could the writer provide or improve them?
  7. How does the writer conclude the essay?
  8. What part of the composition is clearest or best explained? Why?
  9. What suggestions do you have for the writer?

Have students work on a final draft of their essays, either in class or on their own (depending on how much support you think they need). Evaluate the essays in terms of the qualities discussed and elaborated on in class: introduction of the concept; definition of the concept in terms of criteria, examples, contrasting examples, and warrants; and a conclusion discussing what the term means in relation to human conduct. Also consider whether the language and mechanics exhibited in the essays communicate ideas clearly and appropriately.

Return the essays. Have students make final revisions and post final versions of their essays on a class bulletin board or website so they can read one another’s definitions and perhaps reach a wider audience as well

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Teaching Students to Write Essays That Define

Writing to define is fairly common in magazines, newspapers, and blogs, as well as in academic settings. A recent example appeared in the Chicago Tribune after a man set his home on fire and intentionally crashed a single-engine plane into a building in Austin, Texas, where Internal Revenue Service (IRS) offices were located. His lengthy suicide note complained about the U.S. government, the IRS, and government taxation.

After the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said that the man’s actions did not constitute a terrorist act, Thomas F. Schaller wrote “A Double Standard in What We Define as ‘Terrorism’” (2010; see box). In his commentary, Schaller presents the definition of terrorism provided by the USA Patriot Act and argues that the man’s actions meet all the criteria. He compares the Austin incident to other acts that have and have not been labeled terrorist, analyzing their similarities and differences. The essay discusses a number of examples to clarify the defining criteria and set their limits. Without a working definition of what terrorism is—and is not—Schaller’s argument would have been impossible to make.

What Do We Mean by Essays That Define?

Definition writing, which we find an essential part of the English language arts curriculum, doesn’t always get the attention we believe it should. By essays that define we mean the kind of composition, such as the essay on terrorism (see boxed text on pp. 1–2), that defines a complex term or concept and uses examples to clarify what the term or concept’s definition does and does not include.

Usually when people talk about “writing definitions,” what comes to mind is a brief dictionary definition. Teaching students to define or write definitions is often seen as a vocabulary lesson or a method of paragraph development. This is not what we mean here. Defining complex concepts usually requires much more explanation and clarification than a simple one-sentence or even a one-paragraph definition provides.

A chapter on definition writing is sometimes included in college composition texts and in a few secondary-level textbooks. At the high school and middle school level, however, definition is often treated simply as a method of paragraph development. Although teaching essays that define is not always emphasized at the middle and high school level, we believe it is vital to do so, because much of the writing secondary students are asked to do has definition at its foundation. This kind of thinking and writing is also an excellent way to develop and hone students’ critical thinking skills.

How Are Essays That Define Essential?

Consider some common thematic units in English language arts, humanities, and social studies classes: the tragic hero, the American Dream, equality and civil rights, Impressionism, coming-of-age, courage, industrialization and urbanization, feminism and human rights, the antihero, and so forth. These kinds of units are intended to help students build, illustrate, explain, and clarify definitions:

  • What is a tragic hero?
  • What is the American Dream?
  • What are one’s civil rights?
  • What are human rights?
  • What does it mean to be free?
  • What does it mean to have equal rights?
  • What is Impressionism?
  • What does it mean to come of age?
  • What is industrialization, what is urbanization, and how are they related?
  • What is maturity?

For students to be successful in much of the writing and thinking they are asked to do in school, they need to know how to develop effective definitions. If we ask students to write an essay about how Macbeth is a tragic hero, they will have to provide a definition of a tragic hero—a complex concept—and analyze the extent to which the character fulfills the defining criteria. If students do not know how to do this, their essays will be weak at best.

Definition is key even in cases in which it may not be as directly evident. If students are asked to write about whether Jay Gatsby in The Great Gatsby is a success, they will need to develop a definition of success. They will need to address issues such as whether going from rags to riches makes a person a success, whether wealth is necessary or sufficient for success, whether attaining one’s goals makes someone a success, whether the nature of the goals one attains makes a difference, whether personal happiness is necessary for success, and so on. Then they will need to analyze Gatsby’s character and actions in light of the definition.

If students are writing a composition arguing whether Atticus Finch is an ideal father, they will need to determine the criteria for defining what it means to be an ideal father. Their writing will not be effective if they do not provide a definition of the concept and then analyze whether the character fulfills the defining criteria.

In social studies classes, students frequently encounter essay test questions or writing prompts that ask them to define concepts: What is an absolute monarchy as opposed to a constitutional monarchy? Which country had a successful mercantile economy, England or Spain? What is a filibuster and should it be eliminated?

In science classes, students are asked to define more concrete concepts such as photosynthesis, natural selection, and respiration. Students need to be able to write essays that define—and do the critical thinking this requires—to succeed in school and in life. We have found that using a structured process approach to writing extended definitions is a particularly effective way to teach them how.

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Everything You Need to Know About Essay and Essay Writing

In the electric, pulsating world around us, the essay lives a life of abandon, posing questions, speaking truths, fulfilling a need humans have to know what other humans think and wonder so we can feel less alone.

Essay lights up the Internet daily, allowing us to reach across the globe to touch the minds and hearts of our fellow human beings in ways unheard of before cyber technology. Essay explores topics about everything in the galaxy, the living and the inanimate.

This very moment, as I attempt to live peaceably with my new rescue puppy and teach him manners for his safety and our household’s sanity, I reach out to Patricia McConnell’s (2009) funny, touching, and thought-provoking essays about canines, to follow her journeys of
thinking, and to know that even on the topic of how to build relationships with dogs, there are gray areas and places of uncertainty.

Essay also finds a home in print and digital magazines and journals pertaining to literature, history, music, art, pop culture, nature, medicine, psychology, sociology, and science. Essay fuels photography and film, stand-up comedy, televised current events, and political punditry.

And essay appears on the cups and brown paper bags at Chipotle Mexican Grill, inviting us to pause while ingesting the fresh, organic ingredients in their burritos (I don’t work for or own stock in Chipotle; I’m just a fan of the food and the company’s policies!), like the one I just read by Sheri Fink, where she asks, “Whom would you chose? When, in the event of an unimaginable catastrophe, we had to ration medical care, whom should we save first?” (2014).

This profoundly deep question and Fink’s lovely answer to it then cause us to drive home or walk back to our offices to search for more essays like this one at the website called Cultivating Thought Author Series, curated by novelist Jonathan Safran Foer. This website recently ran a contest for high school students to write essays, and the winning pieces were to be printed on cups and bags and included online, right along with work by Neil Gaiman, Toni Morrison, Amy Tan, and other famous writers.

Wow. We can look to our burrito restaurants to cultivate thought these days. As Christy Wampole (2013) argued in a much-shared essay on the New York Times Opinionator blog, lately, it seems, we face the “essayification of everything”!

These are essays in the wild, unbounded by rules and regulations, and we know that creatures are happier and more fiercely beautiful in the wilderness than confined in a zoo, like Rilke’s poor panther, who loses his vision of the world, grown weary from constantly passing by the “thousand bars” of his cage. Rather than conforming to the cage bars of any formula or template, these essays are driven by curiosity, passion, and the intricacies of thought.

In schools, however, the essay suffers. I am aware of the arguments for the efficacy of teaching what is called academic and argument writing. I’ve been hearing them for decades, ever since I first invited teachers to help their students write what Randy Bomer calls “journey of thought” essays (1995, 178). Over the years, I’ve led workshops and weeklong writing institutes where I’ve plied participants with some of the most moving, humorous, thoughtful pieces of literature ever published.

We read essays, and we giggle, we weep, we find ourselves needing to talk about their content. We write our own short essays and laugh and cry all over again. And then people move back out into the world, eager to say yes! to essay writing with their students, only to send an email later, telling me their school administrations or their department chairs or their state testing formats won’t allow them to stray from the
five-paragraph formula.

In this era of high-stakes accountability, academic writing, which is indeed a rich and viable mode of writing, absolutely worth teaching students to do well, gets funneled down into the five-paragraph formula because it is easy to check for its requisite parts and assign a score.

Tom Newkirk calls this “mechanized literacy,” when to satisfy the human or computer scorers, “writing has to be bent out of recognition to be tested” (2009, 4). Peter Elbow argues that the five-paragraph formula is an “anti-perplexity machine” because there is no room for the untidiness of inquiry or complexity and therefore no energy in the writing (2012, 309).

The preponderance of formulaic writing, traditionally reserved for high school students, now finds its way down to kindergarten, where I’ve seen tiny children dutifully filling in worksheets with sentence starters such as “My favorite ice cream flavor is _____. One reason I love ice cream is that ____.”

Practicing this algorithm over and over, from kindergarten on, so the logic goes, will ensure that students’ writing can achieve high scores on state tests, which require little more than a sterile standardization of human thought and composition. The rationale sounds at times like some geometrical shape that bends back on itself forever and ever, always ending up at the same point, at what Alfie Kohn calls (hysterically) “BGUTI,” or “better get used to it,” because kids need it for the next grade, for high school, for college, for career (2015, 42).

English professor Bruce Ballenger burned up the Internet in a lively blog entry titled “Let’s End Thesis Tyranny” in The Chronicle of Higher Education (2013), where he calls the thesis a “thug and a bully” that stops his first-year college students’ thinking dead in its tracks. He suggests that perhaps asking deep questions and writing to discover what they think might be a better way for his students to arrive at an essay.

Dozens of responses to Ballenger’s blog entry argued defensively for the need to maintain proper thesis-driven essays because, in essence, (1) no one wants (or has the time) to read what students wonder and think, (2) young people need to know this for their other academic work in middle school, high school, and college, and (3) this is the way we’ve always done it; it’s how we all learned to write when we were in school.

To me, the arguments fail to convince that teaching kids, sometimes as early as kindergarten, to produce a one-sentence, conclusive thesis statement in answer to a question they aren’t even asking and then to invent sufficient proof of that statement before they’ve had the opportunity to think and to question, to change their minds,
to discover and surprise themselves, will ever help them learn to write well or find their own unique way of looking at the world or turning a phrase.

When writing is taught as a formula, students fail to discover that their writing can truly engage readers. And they have little chance to fall in love with writing, to feel how fun it can be, and to see how writing can help them solve problems and figure things out.

Teaching writing to a formula loses more writers than it wins. But that’s just my opinion.

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